Vitiligo is a common skin disorder in which white spots appear on the skin usually occurring on both sides of the body in the same location. The disease has been around for thousands of years. Vitiligo occurs in 1-2% of the population. It affects both sexes, all races and all ages.
The skin is made up of two main types of cells or building blocks: keratinocytes and melanocytes. The keratinocytes make up the bulk of the skin. The melanocytes are the cells that make the skin color. In people with vitiligo, the immune cells (cells which fight infection) attack the melanocytes and kill them. When the melanocytes in a certain area die the skin turns white. No one knows why the immune cells attack the melanocytes in people with vitiligo.
Vitiligo sometimes runs in families, meaning that a genetic factor may be involved.
Vitiligo sometimes occurs at the site of an old injury.
There is no easy vitiligo treatment. Cover-up cosmetics such as Dermablend, Chromelin Complexion Blender and Covermark work well.
PUVA light treatment is one of the few therapies that has a high success rate. This treatment is very time-consuming. The patient must come to the office 2-4 times per week for 15-30 minutes to stand in a light box for 100-300 treatments. The treatment often takes a year or more and does not work for every patient that tries it; 50-70% of patients treated get a good response.
A 1997 Swedish study showed vitamin B12 (1 mg twice a day) and folic acid (5 mg twice a day) may improve vitiligo.
Surgically speaking, once your vitiligo is medically stable, there are a few options – pigment grafting or tattooing.
There are some newer lasers on the horizon that look promising.
Patients with vitiligo should use daily sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher to prevent sunburn of the white spots.